Heartland brewery is an example of the sort of thing you just don’t get in Australia. Brewpubs are rare enough – that is pubs that brew their own beer (normally on premises). I can think of a few, like Lord Nelson and alike but then Heartland brewery is not just a brewpub, but rather a chain of brewpubs.
It’s hard to put into the Australian context what Heartland is like, it sort of like a TGI Fridays, but with better food, much better beer, and slightly less fat people. Looking at it another way that might make sense for Melbournians it’s a little like Zagame’s without the pokies and children, and again with better beer.
Why we don’t have this concept in Australia I’m not sure, you could argue it’s a volume thing, but I think not. There are only seven Heartland’s (all in New York), they aren’t small (on average they seat 250 people each) but they aren’t huge either. I’m told they serve 1.5 million pints a year – which is about 33 kegs a day across the seven locations – or close enough to 5 kegs per venue per day. Now I’ve never worked in a pub, but that doesn’t seem like huge volume to me.
So why don’t we replicate this type of thing in Australia? Could it be it’s close to impossible to run a pub without Carlton/Tooheys, is the entire scene too reliant on pokies to underwrite the pubs, Is the craft beer scene to dependant on people constantly wanting to try new beers meaning that a Local Taphouse model works better, than good solid, but unchanging beer line-up. Or is it simply that beer consumers in Australia are not mature enough for this sort of thing.
How do I know so much about Heartland? Well they were the feature story in the ‘Yankee Brew News’ which is a free newspaper about beer that you get (usually in the toilets) of pubs in New York. It appears that not only is their beer market mature enough to have a chain of craft brew brewing pubs but they have their own newspaper, although Crafty Pint probably does the digital equivalent of this here.
Through this article I can tell you that they don’t actually brew on premise anymore, rather they brew in Brooklyn, that they opened their Union Square pub first in 1995 (which is the location that we popped into for a quick bite of lunch after some serious shoe shopping at the nearby DSW.) I can also tell you that beer is at the heart of what Heartland do (see what I did there?) and although they have mainstream locations (Union Square, Empire State Building, Seaport, Times Square) they are focused on taking high quality beers to the masses.
As I mentioned we popped in for Lunch on about the third or fourth day that we were in the big apple and over lunch managed to get through a quick three beers.
The first was the Red Rooster Ale, surprisingly this has nothing to do with everyone favourite stuck in the 80’s roasted chicken franchise (how funny was it when some local roustabouts threw rocks at the S in the sign on the top of the restaurant thus rendering them to be labelled Red Rooter, comedy gold that is).
This looks and tastes like an amber ale (probably because it is an amber ale), but it is slightly creamier than I would have expected. It has a nice creamy light brown head, and is quite malty with some bitterness (with fruit tones) in the aftertaste – Overall a really interesting beer – Pint
Next up was the Cornhusker Lager, not sure why I choose this given I’m not a huge lager fan, perhaps I was looking for something refreshing after all the walking we had done that day. It looked standard, being pale yellow with a white head. It was actually significantly hoppier than Aussie beers. Having said that I would say this was still designed for session drinking, which is to say it was refreshing if not a little dull.
I must have be delirious or something because my next order was the Indian River Light , That’s right, a light beer. Of course when Americans say light they mean calories, not alcohol, so this is still 4.25% ABV, Australian’s should think of it as Pure Blonde rather than Light Ice.
Now this beer was so much better than either of those comparisons. Sure it looked like a pretty standard lager, pale yellow and clear with a wispy pure white head. It smelled of apples and the apples comes through in the aftertaste as well. It worked really well in cutting through the spice of the Buffalo Wings I was munching on, A good effort for a low calorie beer but not the most interesting beer out there – Schooner.
Heartland Brewery weren’t the best brewery we went to in the US (21st amendment in San Fran took that crown) and it wasn’t the best bar we went to either (Blind Tiger was a standout) but for what it is it’s very impressive.
Heartland is doing that cross over job which is so important (like James Squire and Matilda Bay do in Australia) they are making interesting beers for the masses, rather than really really interesting beers for beer geeks, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Red rooster Ale: I’ll have a Pint thanks
Cornhusker Lager – Let’s have a Schooner
Indian River Light – Let’s have a Schooner